Credit: Yana Fleming
For the last two decades, I have spent the majority of my time living overseas. From studying abroad to working for non-profits and corporate clients, the bulk of my travel costs have been covered. A native of what was once known as the Gold Coast, a bastion of educated upper-middle-class black Washingtonians, I watched Chocolate City change over this time through the eyes of an outsider. Visiting my mother who still lives on the street where I spent my formative years, I admit to enjoying some of the perks gentrification has brought forth such as the liquor stores on Georgia Avenue turning into brunch spots. However, I also saw what was once a neighborhood where everyone knew each other turn into the mini-fiefdoms of my new non-colored neighbors.
As open racial prejudice finds a home within the rhetoric of politicians from across the country and rekindles feelings of separation and segregation, I find people who normally wouldn’t consider living abroad asking me for advice on #Blaxit. You don’t have to be a policy wonk or an academic scholar to notice the tide in America has shifted. Whether you want to talk about the abysmal dating scene for educated women of color in major metropolitan areas, the difficulty in finding a job that does not suck your soul out bit-by-bit every time you walk into the cubicle farm, the disregard for the lives of young black men, or the current president’s band of alternative fact peddling alt-right advocates—I am certainly not a believer in America as the greatest country in the world.
[Related Post: Could Trump’s Election As U.S. President Cause A Blaxit?]
While President Obama in his 2016 Howard University commencement speech said there is no better time to be young gifted and Black in America. I ask why limit ourselves to America? And what of about those of us who are no longer so young yet still gifted and Black? Social media is teaming with travel shots of young African Americans enjoying their well-earned vacations around the globe. This new public face of Black, specifically female, travelers is a welcomed addition to a space typically inhabited and dominated with the narratives and visuals of white women exploring the “third world.” As we reclaim our connections to people of color in developing nations and beyond, I am left to wonder, should everyone really be taking these $4500 vacations?
Is there not a need for a place where Black travelers can learn about the myriad of opportunities to explore the world without breaking the bank?
Every year, thousands of college students take off for a study abroad programs that are completely or significantly sponsored. Beyond undergrad, there are opportunities for people of color to complete an MBA for free at Oxford, PhD students to learn another language while doing field research, and experienced professionals to be paid volunteers.
For me, collaborating with my friend on a site to publicize these opportunities to our brothers and sisters, was the natural progression of being a happy expat. Since my first study abroad in Cote d’Ivoire at age thirteen, the adventures of life beyond the coasts has called me. In college, I was fortunate to have had an advocate under whose guidance I found travel and study abroad grants. When I graduated, like many of my friends, I moved abroad. After living in Europe and working on projects in West Africa, I went back to D.C. I attempted to live a “normal” life but, I still found myself taking busman’s holidays to photograph back in Brazil, Cape Verde, Italy, Trinidad, and Portugal. On my twenty-seventh birthday, while attempting to shoot a windowsill flower box in Rome, I realized I needed to get out of dodge. I sent a hastily worded email to my boss announcing my resignation. Since then, I have lived and worked on five continents. I learned to kickbox in Thailand, wrote propaganda in the Gulf, photographed deep in the bush of Madagascar, and started a business in Argentina. Admittedly, I am still an artist a heart and I am impulsive—but whether you do it my way or plan it out, leaving the familiarity of your surroundings can be a simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating experience.
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